Russell and Holmes’ latest adventure covers the interim time frame between two other cases from their past and has continuation into their present. This was an intriguing story that has the duo aboard a cruise ship leaving India and journeying to parts east into the Orient where they leave the ship to explore Japan and track down a possible blackmailer. As is par for the course, some things are just as they seem while others are quite the surprising twist. The author did a fabulous job of unsettling me more than once and that’s a good thing in a suspense. I feel like I travel the world with this series and its characters and in this case, I visited 1920s Japan and it was an exquisite, captivating place.
This book falls chronologically both between books seven and eight in the flashback, but also just after book twelve in the present narratives. It doesn’t flip back and forth other than to start in the present then dip into the past and working its way back to the present. It would be alright as a standalone when it comes to the mystery though personally I have enjoyed the ongoing character growth of Mary Russell and the relationship development of Russell and Homes by getting the series in order. There are a few references that will be confusing or mildly spoilerish too.
Holmes and Russell return home after their adventures in the North African desert and expect to dive into quiet pursuits until a few curious things occur that plunge them back into the past to a time three years prior. The detecting husband and wife duo were taking a cruise ship out of India and become curious about their fellow passengers. Holmes’ goes on the alert when he spots Lord Darnley who he is convinced was a participant in a blackmailer’s schemes, but never got caught. They are both taken with a young Japanese girl who may be more than she seems. There is a card shark, a ship’s ghost and a missing woman to round out things to keep them from boredom.
They decide to take advantage of their stop in Japan and do some exploration since neither of them are familiar with the country or its beautiful culture. Their stopover also neatly fits with their ongoing pursuit of Darnley as they are now both keen to catch the man before he can act again. The case takes some interesting twists that leave both Holmes and Russell not sure what is truth and they are pretty sure they have been played.
Things heat up three years later when that old case and some of its players resurface once again for the final act in the play. Time is of the essence if they are to keep their adversary from winning the game.
Alright, so my thoughts on this one are that I enjoyed it, but for different reasons than say, the last book. The pace was gentler and less intense as was the tone which makes sense considering their situation is different. This one explores the shadow world of espionage just as the others, but with a new set of rules in the game. There is the criminal(s) for them to track down. But it doesn’t have that desperate life and death feel to it. Russell has time to reflect and philosophize. Holmes and Russell are in sync with no issues between them so they are practically a comfortable old married pair on holiday- okay an old married pair that sneak about breaking into places, taking to the back roads of Japan, pairing up in hand to hand fights against their adversaries and taking turns spying on people. Poetry is a theme element as is cultural and political difference between East and West in the 20s. I was fascinated that Emperor Hirohito is a character. Shamefully, I never really researched his life as a young man, but now I want to study him, Shogun, Geisha, and many other things that intrigued me.
Honestly, what I liked the most was the descriptions of the historical settings and the scenes in Japan. The author gave me a taste and now I have a craving. I want to hit a Japanese restaurant because the mentions of food and tea had me salivating. I would love to see a collection of clothing, house goods, literature and art after all the descriptions. And I have the sudden albeit frightful desire to write some Haiku (frightful because I’m terrible at it). The author provided many delightful samples with each chapter head and within the chapters.
But it wasn’t all travelogue. The case takes a while to build because at first they are not even sure there is a case. They can speculate, surmise and have gut feelings, but it is a waiting game. This is one where the readers can easily think their way clear to a solution and then get the rug pulled out. Personally, I find that the most fun about mysteries. In this story, Holmes and Russell have none of their usual allies to assist them and I enjoyed the intro to the new partner they encounter in their investigations. Both our intrepid detectives had to step up their game to keep up. And yes, I’m being deliberately vague so I don’t spoil the surprises for other readers.
So all in all it was another pleasant encounter with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. I was sorry to close the book because I always want more. This one had me relaxing back for a cozy read instead of on the edge of my seat. Fans of historical suspense and mysteries really need to pick up this series if they haven’t already and it is a given that Sherlock Holmes lovers need to read it.
My thanks to Penguin Random House Group and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
Item Found: #72 Tiara
#11 ‘Too Long in Each Other’s Pockets’